Good advice?

I remember being a little skeptical when a friend of mine suggested a group of us attend a show by Basia Bulat at the Black Sheep Inn in early 2009. At that stage of my life I was wary of folk – was this really worth the trip from Ottawa to Wakefield?

Little did I know.

Over the next few years I saw her in concert on no fewer than five other occasions. Her songs were also fixtures in my mp3 playlist during those years, seeing me through some difficult times.

Given my attachment to Bulat’s music, when I realized she had just released the new album Good Advice I was both excited and a little hesitant. I worried that it wouldn’t live up to past efforts – or my rather unreasonable expectations.

On first listen, my doubts seemed justified. The first song didn’t grab me right away. It was a pop song, different from old favourites like The Pilgriming Vine, The Shore, and Sparrow. 

As is my policy, though, I kept listening, then when the album finished I put it on again. And again. Then it was all I listened to for days.

The songs suggest a theme of heartbreak, and a quick read of Bulat’s website confirms that this is a breakup album. As Starlee Kine put it on This American Life, “there’s nothing restrained or subtle about being crushed by the person you care most about in the world. It’s big and gaudy. And so it only makes sense that songs about it are too.”

Accordingly, most of the songs on Good Advice soar and glitter – Long Goodbye, Living in the Name Of, and Infamous in particular. Only the final two, The Garden and Someday Soon, seem to turn away from anguish and struggle toward resignation, with peace maybe somewhere visible in the distance.

Basia’s music has always had an emotional intensity to it, but Good Advice goes further. About Basia’s age, I’ve grown up alongside her music. At 25, I might have written off Good Advice, much like the real “good advice” I received back then. Things are different now.

If you’re a Basia Bulat fan, Good Advice is worth a listen or ten. If La La Lie doesn’t appeal to you, skip ahead to Infamous or The Garden. There’s something here for almost any broken heart.

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